Remarks by the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke, at the opening of the public hearing on a bill for A Law to Implement a Sustainable Youth Policy Framework through the Establishment of Akwa Ibom Youth Development Fund, on this day, Wednesday, 19th of September, 2018
Dear distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it has pleased God Almighty that we gather here at a time like this to meet minds for the collective good of our dear state. That collective good, for me, can only be guaranteed through our trust in God, our patriotism and loyalty to our land, faith in the Akwa Ibom project, and genuine love for our people.
It can be guaranteed through our strong commitment to making individual sacrifices that will brace the building of a great future for next generation. And looking at this room today, I see a cross section of patriotic Akwa Ibom people who have come out to sacrifice their time and energy for the purpose of building that great future.
I thank God almighty therefore for this opportunity that we have as a people; and I thank you for accepting to be a part of this public hearing. You have subscribed to the effort of this assembly to pursue the common good of Akwa Ibom people through the instrumentality of the law.
For the benefit of those who are a part of our public hearing exercise for the first time, let me mention here that the public hearing tradition has become an indispensable aspect of the lawmaking process in the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly. In the last three and a half years, the democratisation of the process of lawmaking in the state legislature has become a manifest ethos of the 6th assembly under my leadership. From all cadres, we invite stakeholders, industry experts and representatives of social groupings to make relevant inputs to proposed legislations. The aim is often to ensure that our laws reflect the will of the people and that they are capable of furthering our shared aspirations. We have recorded successes in the past and it is my hope that today’s exercise will record similar amount of success especially as the bill in focus is concerned with youth development.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to express gratitude to young Nigerians, specifically Akwa Ibom youths, and especially to the youth alive foundation who inspired the coming to life of the youth development fund bill. Let me use this opportunity to appreciate the USAID for supporting this bill. This proposed law for me an express manifestation of the intellectual struggle which we began in this country a few years ago. We felt at the time that the public protests, the carrying of placards and the picketing of institutions by our predecessors were yielding weaker and weaker outcomes. So we thought of more effective ways to influence government policy decisions to the benefit of the youth. Now, instead of the physical struggle as it were, we began an era of intellectual struggle. For instance, in the Nigeria youth parliament where by God’s grace I was pioneer speaker, we felt that an intellectual fight against youth unemployment in the country was going to yield better result than a mass protest. So we held town hall meetings across the geopolitical zones of the country and came up with position papers which we thought could influence government policies at all levels. We leveraged on the little powers that we had as members of the Nigeria Youth Parliament and the ECOWAS Youth Parliament and the National Youth Council of Nigeria to press home our demands. One of our modest achievements remains what is today the National Youth Employment Action Plan, NAYEAP. I recall that as far back as 2009, sitting like this as young Nigerians who wanted the very best for our country, we called for the reform of the almajiri system in the north and the immediate tackling of Boko Haram which was just a machete-wielding group at the time. We called for full implementation of amnesty programme for militants in the Niger Delta. But of course, it did appear that perhaps nobody listened to us. A few years later, you all know what has become of the little Boko Haram of 2009 and the vulnerability of the Almajiri education system. But we must appreciate governments, past and present, for all they’ve so far done. But we are also asking them to do more.
The good news today however is that the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly is ready to listen to intellectual proposals by young people and act on them. And that is why we are here. When we led all those intellectual struggles as youths, we realised along the line that one of the major challenges that we had was that we didn’t have enough young people in the political space who were ready to lend us a helping hand. It could be that because the youths were not on the decision making table, policies favouring their development were as a corollary not given the deserving level of priority. So part of our struggle was to see that the political space was enlarged to accommodate us the youths. We wanted to get into the turf of governance ourselves so we could pursue policies that drive youth development. We succeeded and today in Akwa Ibom, we have justified that struggle , though there are more to be done, and its outcome through the multiple youth friendly policies that we have helped government activate.
When the Akwa Ibom Youth Fund Bill was presented for first reading and it enjoyed the support of almost all the members of the house, I said to myself that finally, our struggle has crystallised. Truth is that, if the young people behind this bill didn’t have us up here to lend the required helping hand to their struggle, this bill would probably never have found its way to this stage of public hearing. First, you wouldn’t have had a Honourable Emmanuel Ekpeyong, a former youth leader, to sponsor the bill. Even if you did, you wouldn’t have had a majority support for the bill to even pass through first reading. And assuming you did, you wouldn’t have had a Speaker who is passionate about youth development to ensure that the bill gets to the level of public hearing. But then, ladies and gentlemen, this is just the beginning of the crystallising of the youth struggle that we led in this country and in this state years ago. Now that we have crossed the era of the struggle for the enlargement of political space, and we have entered the era for the struggle for an institutionalised framework for youth development, I call on our youths to continue to take advantage to advance issues that concern their development, their dreams and their aspirations.
I am happy that in the Akwa Ibom community, we can already boast of youths in this category. And this is why we are giving expedient consideration to the implementation of a sustainable youth policy framework in the state through a youth development fund. This assembly considers what would accrue in terms of encouragement of innovations among our young people and boosting of the young people’s enterprises in the creative industries. Think of what the likes of Hanson Johnson are doing with Start Innovation Hub and the likes of the Onuks brothers how much a state funding could do to drive his ICT ideas and business. Think of Solomon Solomon and how many more people he could employ with his Integrated Agro Project in Ikot Abasi. Or what the young woman, Ediomi Akpan of McCoy Styles could do to drive her innovation in the fashion industry. Some of you already know of one of the states leading names in the bespoke business, Sifon Oscar of Sifon Bespoke. The bill you’re making contributions to this morning may be just one more step that we need to make to take Sifon’s enterprise from Nwaniba Road to the markets in Europe and America. Inimfon Clifford is a trained Engineer who ventured into agriculture. His fish farm could end unemployment for a lot of young people like himself if his business gets at least a lifeline from a dedicated development financial policy of government. Aniekan Ekah of WetinHappen whose venture in the branding industry is commendable, and Ofon Ntia who brought amazing creativity into taxi business in the state are just a few more examples that we would be on the perfect course of history if we pass this bill into law. Think of more young people doing more exploits in a more creative and innovative ways and employing more people as well as developing themselves to be a more resourceful generation. As an evidently all encompassing law, the Akwa Ibom Youth Development Fund Bill attract back to the state the superior talents of Akwa Ibom children. The outcome will be the significant economic boast and a definite rise in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the state.
It will both promote innovation and well as pursue government’s youth capacity development ambition. For me, the actual empowerment is in human capacity building. A people without a skilled workforce is a dead population. Empowerment is more in building mental capacity than is the dolling out of cash gifts and food items to the people though this would serve as palliatives. This is why this bill matters at a time like this when government is seeking to build a more virile populace out of our teeming youth population. The bill will leverage our quest to build and sustain the Akwa Ibom project, which for me is to create an educated, healthy, prosperous and united state under one leadership and under one God. Permit me to say this to the youths of the state. You’ll never have good leadership if you don’t give support to the leadership. I want to thank Akwa Ibom youths for continuing to give their support to our Governor, His Excellency, Mr Udom Emmanuel and for not inciting the level of restiveness that we used to see in the past.
Let me also urge that criticisms should be constructively done. Constructive criticism is exemplified in what the Youth Alive Foundation has done – make proposals as private member bills and forward them to us and we will carry out legislative actions on them. I welcome you to the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly, the People’s Parliament.